Review – Iraivi (2016)

At the very end of Karthik Subbaraj’s third outing, a rational male would spend a good couple of hours pondering over how he must have intentionally or unintentionally hurt the womenfolk in his life..mother, wife, ex-girlfriends and so on. It is not exactly a woman-centric film unlike how it has been marketed. Rather, Iraivi is a film that depicts women as the sufferers due to the moronic and insensitive nature of their male counterparts. They are never shown to assume charge of their own lives. The women characters in the film possess the virtues of patience and forgiveness to a large extent, and put up with all the anger and physical abuse vented out on them by their husbands.

One of them, Yazhini, played by Kamalini Mukherjee, is a modern working woman who has an alcoholic film-director husband Arul, played by S J Surya. For the entire first half, barring maybe a couple of minutes, Arul is high on alcohol and S J Surya pulls this off convincingly with a terrific performance. Even though the movie is said to be a tribute to womenfolk, this movie is going to be remembered mostly for S J Surya’s cogent work. Yes, the movie does have other brilliant character-actors like Vijay Sethupathi and Bobby Simhaa on the scene, yet it is S J Surya who leaves a lasting impression. Out of the female protagonists, it is Anjali’s Ponni who takes away all the glory. Not that Kamalini or Pooja Devariya felt inadequate, but their characters lacked the depth of Anjali’s. The viewer is inclined to feel bad (but relieved!) for Ponni as the credits start rolling, because she is clearly the underdog in the whole scenario and has crossed the limits of endurance since a very long time. I hope that this film paves the way for better screenplays to reach S J Surya and Anjali, as they have clearly proven with Iraivi that they are both extremely bankable actors. Sethupathi is an ever-dependable performer and he underplays his character, happily letting S J Surya take away the bulk of the honors.

The problem with Subbaraj’s screenplay is that he attempts to pull off a harmonious amalgamation of too many genres. The first half is mostly breezy, and poignantly written. There is no separate comedy track as such, but the proceedings induce frequent laughter nonetheless. The early scene (with the rowdy pasanga!) depicting the intimacy of the three male protagonists brings genuine smiles. Arul is shown to be a preachy, ‘do-this-don’t do-that’ kind of person who has his own take on things, and giving advice to younger film directors whom he meets at bars, but ultimately ends up making a mockery of himself. Michael (Sethupathi) is forced into a marriage of sorts with Ponni, after his fling with Malarvizhi does not seem to reach a fulfilling climax. Jagan (Simhaa) is into idols of goddesses and is the one who suggests the family takes to smuggling to solve their monetary woes. The (mandatory) late-night drinking scene involving the three protagonists is a laugh riot, and you realize much later that it shed light on Jagan’s character arc.

The viewer is asked to trust the director’s gut in coherently integrating a romantic-comedy-crime-drama-thriller all rolled into one. This is where the films starts to lose grip and falters. The heist scenes are particularly less impactive. The womenfolk have zilch involvement in these scenes and they are conveniently kept at bay. Three-fourths past,  the movie although having lost its riveting hold over the viewer, struts along thanks to commendable performances. Then, the supposedly BIG TWIST is revealed. To be honest, this was the weakest point in the entire film. At that very moment, the movie nose-dived into mediocrity for me. We do get some respite in the following scene between Michael and Ponni, and ultimately hope things take a turn for good. But Subbaraj chooses to tread the path taken by several Korean crime-dramas and plunges into tragedy traversing the point of no-return, deliberately ending the viewer’s desire for a happy ending to take place in these endearing womenfolk’s lives.

If Iraivi had been Subbaraj’s first film, we would have hailed it as a great start from an ambitious director. But this, being his third directorial, has sortof given the ardent Subbaraj fan a feeling that he has let them down. Agreed, he attributes the dramatic element of the film to those of K Balachander’s and Balu Mahendra’s, but the current Indian audience, as a whole, would simply label the movie a tragedy, ignoring the multiple strengths of the film and move on. The BGM by Santhosh Narayanan certainly towers over his song compositions, and is satisfying overall. ‘Kadhal Kappal’ a feel-good romantic number, ‘Onnu Rendu’ a bar-song rendered superbly by S J Surya, and ‘Manidhi’ which plays out like an anthem are my picks. Editing by Vivek Harshan is alright, but the screenplay is the damp squib here, drenching itself in ample amounts of violence and gore, owing to ruthless nature of its male characters.

Do not worry Subbaraj; I still haven’t given up hopes on you. Pretty sure you will bounce back with a brilliant fourth. Not everyone is third-time lucky. Meanwhile, give Iraivi a watch at the cinemas if you are someone who is more aroused by noteworthy performances than the screenplay, which is the exact opposite of Subbaraj’s earlier films (where screenplay drove performances!). *sigh*

**1/2 stars out of five

Watch the trailer here:

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